Research Highlights: Earthworms can enrich the soil, faster than previously thought

Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

Earthworms can enrich the soil, faster than previously thought

  • Nutrient cycling is a process by which nutrients are transferred from the environment to living organisms and back to the environment.
  • Usually, nutrient cycling involving soil decomposers, such as earthworms, is slow and cumulative.
  • Researchers show that it is possible to have a rapid movement of nitrogen and carbon from earthworms to plants and herbivores.
  • They performed two experiments, one under a laboratory and the other in the field.
  • Researchers used chemical tracers to monitor the movement of nutrients from earthworms to the soil, plant seedlings, and sap-sucking bugs.
  • Nitrogen and carbon derived from the earthworms were obtained by the bugs after only two hours under laboratory conditions, and nitrogen after 24 hours in the field.
  • Researchers speculated that the source of this nitrogen and carbon was the earthworms’ labeled mucus on their skin.
  • Based on the rapid tracer appearance in herbivores, researchers suggest that an amino acid compound excreted by earthworms may have been involved.
  • The results suggest a previously unknown shortcut in the nitrogen and carbon cycle.


Ganna S. Shutenko, G. S. Shutenko, Walter S. Andriuzzi, W. S. Andriuzzi, Jens Dyckmans, J. Dyckmans, Yu Luo, Y. Luo, Thomas L. Wilkinson, T. L. Wilkinson, & Olaf Schmidt, O. Schmidt. (2022). Rapid transfer of C and N excreted by decomposer soil animals to plants and above-ground herbivores. Soil biology & biochemistry, 166, 108582. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2022.108582

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